As noted by Fortune, space entrepreneur Elon Musk now says he wants to achieve complete reuse of the entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2018. Recently, SpaceX managed to relaunch one of the several Falcon 9 first stages – the most expensive part of the rocket – it has recovered. They also recovered the $6 million fairing, but if they can recover and reuse the first stage as well, the cost to get to orbit will drop to a tiny fraction of what it is now.
When it comes to Mars, there is no bigger enthusiast than Elon Musk. Within a decade or so, Musk feels that SpaceX will be moving hundreds or thousands of people back and forth from the red planet. A few decades later – anywhere from 50 to 100 years – Elon Musk expects that Mars would have a vibrant, self-sustaining colony or colonies of at least 1 million people.
At the same time, Musk pointed out during a conference in Mexico late last year that the goal isn’t just Mars. He views it as a broader attempt to make the human species a multi-planet one. As he put it:
This is not about everyone moving to Mars, this is about becoming multiplanetary. This is really about minimizing existential risk and having a tremendous sense of adventure.
First Stage Recovery and Reuse
As reported by TechCrunch, Elon Musk and SpaceX have now demonstrated that they can not only launch the Falcon 9 and recover the first stage by landing it exactly where they want, they have also now refurbished and reflown on of those recovered first stages.
Just by doing this and recovering the fairing as well, the pioneering company is recouping as much as 70-80 percent of the cost of the Falcon 9. This kind of savings can be passed on to SpaceX customers – a prospect that makes the company’s competitor’s in the United States and Europe very nervous.
Getting the Second Stage Too
Elon Musk from the very beginning of his efforts to get into space – and ultimately to Mars – with reusable rockets wanted his system to be fully reusable, but decided to settle for the first stage because it would be quicker and easier to accomplish. But now that he and SpaceX have done that, he’s setting his sights of the whole thing.
Getting the second stage back as well will mean that SpaceX will be able undercut the price of any space launch system in the world. Combined with a rapid turnaround time –Musk wants to get it to less than 24 hours – this will mean cheap and easy access to space for governments, corporations and private individuals around the world.
For Musk’s competitors like ULA in the United States and Arianespace in Europe, this could be the end of the line unless they can quickly produce a similar capability themselves. But Boeing, Lockheed and others in the combined ULA organization spent the last 15 years telling the world Musk would fail, instead of researching the technology themselves.
This means that they would essentially be starting from scratch in any effort to catch up with Elon Musk and SpaceX. It’s questionable whether they can stay afloat long enough to make that happen, as their current plans suggest. In the meantime, Musk will be further expanding the SpaceX fleet with the upcoming Falcon 9 rocket, the most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5.
It should be noted that – like the Falcon 9 – the Falcon 9 Heavy has been designed to maximize re-usability. In fact, the Falcon 9 Heavy is essentially just a number of Falcon 9s bunched together to carry a single cargo. It’s anticipated that the Falcon Heavy will be able to lift 64 tons into orbit.
[Featured Image by NASA via Getty Images]